Microplastics in the ocean, air and human body

'They're everywhere': Microplastics in oceans, air and human bodies

Millions of tons of plastic go into the environment and break down into smaller pieces.


From ocean depths to mountain peaks, humans have littered the planet with tiny bits of plastic. We have even absorbed these microplastics into our bodies – with uncertain effects.

Images of plastic pollution have become familiar: a turtle suffocated by a shopping bag, water bottles washed up on beaches, or the “Great Pacific Garbage” with floating debris.

Millions of tons of plastic produced each year, much of it from fossil fuels, enters the environment and breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.

Jean-Francois Ghiglione, a researcher at the Laboratory of Microbial Oceanography in France, said: “We couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago that there could be so many tiny microplastics, invisible to the eye. often and they are everywhere around us.

“And we still can’t imagine finding them in the human body.”

Scientific studies are increasingly finding microplastics in a number of human organs – including “lungs, spleens, kidneys and even the placenta,” Ghiglione told AFP.

It may not be too shocking that we breathe in these airborne particles, especially microfibers from synthetic clothing.

Laura Sadofsky, from Hull York Medical School, UK, said: “We know that there are microplastics in the air, we know it’s all around us.

Her team found polypropylene and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) in lung tissue, identifying fibers from synthetic fabrics.

“What was surprising to us was how deep it got into the lungs and the size of those particles,” she told AFP.

In March, another study reported the first traces of PET found in blood.

With a small sample of volunteers, some scientists say it’s too early to draw conclusions, but there are concerns that if the plastic is present in the bloodstream, it could be transported to all organs. mandarin.

Breathe in plastic for years

In 2021, researchers found microplastics in both maternal and fetal placental tissue, expressing “great concern” about the possible consequences for fetal development.

But the concern doesn’t look like a proven risk.

“If you ask a scientist if there are any negative effects, they will say ‘I don’t know,’” said Bart Koelmans, professor of Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality at Wageningen University.

“It’s potentially a big deal, but we don’t have scientific evidence to positively confirm the effects, if any.”

One theory is that microplastics may be responsible for a number of syndromes that impair human health.

While scientists have recently identified their presence in the body, it is likely that humans have been eating, drinking and breathing in plastic for many years.

In 2019, a shocking report by environmental charity WWF estimated that people are ingesting and inhaling 5 grams of plastic a week – enough to make a credit card.

Koelmans, who debated the methodology and results of that study, calculated an amount roughly the size of a grain of salt.

He told AFP: “In a lifetime, a grain of salt a week is still something quite interesting.

While human health studies have yet to be developed, toxicity in some animal species has reinforced concerns.

“Small microplastics invisible to the naked eye have harmful effects on all the animals we studied in marine or terrestrial environments,” says Ghiglione.

He added that the range of chemicals found in these materials – including dyes, stabilizers, flame retardants – can affect growth, metabolism, blood sugar, blood pressure and even reproduction.

A “precautionary” approach is needed, the researcher said, urging consumers to reduce the amount of plastic packaged products they buy, especially bottles.

Earlier this year, the United Nations began the process of developing an internationally binding treaty to tackle the global plastic problem.

It has warned that the world is facing a pollution crisis to match the biodiversity and climate crisis.

While the health effects from plastic are unknown, scientists know the effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution, which experts from the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health estimate have caused 6.7 million people died prematurely in 2019.

About 460 million tons of plastic were used in 2019, more than double what it was 20 years earlier. Less than 10 percent is recycled.

Last month, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said that annual output of fossil fuel-based plastics will peak at 1.2 billion tons by 2060, with waste exceeding one billion tons.

“People can’t stop breathing, so even if you change your eating habits, you’ll still inhale them,” says Koelmans.

“They’re everywhere.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from the syndication feed.)

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